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Centrelink debt crisis has "palpable" impact on staff, insider says

12 January 2017
Jessica Black
The Courier

Centrelink’s ongoing debt debacle has tarnished the agency’s reputation and sent staff morale into free fall, a longtime employee in the region said. 

Debt notices issued by the department’s automated debt recovery system have brought with them an avalanche of appeals – something the federal government anticipated by hiring an army of review officers before the process kicked in, the insider, who only agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, said.

However the government was “unwilling” to employ staff to analyse debts before they were issued, they said.

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“Centrelink has been fully aware of the expected impacts of the PAYG data matching exercise,” they said.

“The impact on already overstretched staff is palpable. 

“The plummeting staff morale, the heightened anger and anxiety in customers, and the diminishing credibility of DHS creates unwanted tension and strain every day.

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge has continued to defend the system, saying earlier this week that people were getting through to assistance over the phone or at Centrelink within minutes and just 1.6 per cent of the 169,000 debt notices issued since July had been challenged. 

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge has continued to defend the system, saying earlier this week that people were getting through to assistance over the phone or at Centrelink within minutes.

However the insider said that figure was “flawed” and did not reflect the stages before a formal appeal.

Already Centrelink has begun retracting debts. One man The Courier spoke to received a call from a Centrelink employee late at night last week who apologised and said it was “clear” he had no debt.